Professor Bob Emiliani
Bob Emiliani is an engineer, researcher, author, historian of progressive management, educational reformer, and executive coach. He is a long-time TPS/Lean practitioner and was the first to focus on Lean leadership as an area of scholarly study.
Bob is also the author and co-author of 22 books, including KAIZEN FOREVER - Teachings of Chihiro Nakao, the subject of this podcast.
In the podcast:
Nick: This is Nick Kemp here with the Ikigai Tribe podcast. And my guest today is Professor Bob Emiliani. Bob, you are an engineer, researcher, author, and historian of progressive management, educational reformer and executive coach. And you are also a longtime TPS that's Toyota production system and Lean practitioner. And you were the first to focus on Lean Leadership as an area of scholarly study. You're also an author and co-author of 22 books, including Kaizen forever, teachings of Chihiro Nakao, which is the subject of this podcast. Thank you for coming on to the podcast, Bob.
Bob: It's my pleasure. I'm happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Nick: I'm really excited to have you hit talking and you have this amazing background and work history. But I would like to ask When was it that you stumbled upon Kaizen.
From Engineering To Manufacturing
Bob: The initial stumbling was, I read a book called Kaizen by Masaaki Imai, it was 1993. And I was in the engineering organisation of the company I was working at at the time, Creft Witney. And about a year later, I didn't fully understand the book, but I read it because I was interested.
Anyway, I headed into manufacturing. So I got out of engineering and went into manufacturing to become a business unit manager. And I'm there for a few weeks as the business unit manager and our company is undergoing reorganisation. A couple of years earlier, they hired Kaizen consultants from Shingijutsu, because they had lost some orders in the commercial airline business, the Berlin Wall fell down. So there was cost delivery, quality, the lead time you name it, we had all kinds of problems, sales drop, etc. And so I came into manufacturing. We had a new General Manager in our facility, and we were engaged in Kaizen and I participated in my first Kaizen in July 1994.
And it was a huge, huge eye-opening experience. Because we had all these highly educated people in manufacturing, we had all these people who maybe didn't have degrees, but had a tonne of work experience, and they were great people, great operators, and so on. And yet, with all this intelligence in the business, we managed to make things the hardest way possible. So to make the manufacturers do whatever we did, it was actually the hardest way possible.
And so there are just two guys and consultants who taught us how to simplify the work and make it easier for people to get a flow of material and information in the process. And that resulted in better quality, shorter lead time, less stress, less strain, etc. And it was just absolutely mind-boggling what I learned in that first Kaizen, I just couldn't believe.
One thing that struck me was for all the education that I've had, and all the teachers that tell you their main goal is to teach critical thinking, It's like I learned more in that one week Kaizen with Shingijutsu about critical thinking that I had learned everything through my PhD. Bob Emiliani.
The educational system teaches us some elements or aspects of critical thinking, but it just blew me away with what Shingijutsu was teaching us how they were guiding us into a different realisation of things and so on.
Nick: And that experience, was that done on the factory floor, as what they call the gemba?
Bob: Yep. Yep. It was done on the factory floor. And we were we had chronic cost delivery quality problems with certain products we were making, there were multiple Kaizen weeks, but then the first one it's just amazing how this process got so straightened out and improved in such a short period of time by Sensei just giving us some challenges providing us with some guidance, giving us some support: that, "You can do this, you have the capability just you need to use your brain you need to think.", and so on.
And it was just a phenomenal experience. And it's changed my life forever because as you can see, I left the engineering world, my background in materials engineering, metallurgy. And I went into management, and wrote a bunch of books about TPS and its derivative called Lean management and so on. And I've been doing that since 1994. I'd left the industry, by the way, 1999, and went into academia. And that's really where you get the opportunity to write a bunch of books.
But what I want to say about those Kaizens was while on the shop floor, you learn all these various technical aspects to improve the work that the even bigger learning in my view was, in the evening, the team leader of the Kaizen and the general manager of the facility and some other managers like us, would go to dinner with the Sensei, and with the interpreter, and that's really where you learn what Kaizen is all about from a philosophical perspective, and just making the connection between Kaizen and humanity and your responsibilities as an employee and what you should be doing, and how to humanise the workplace and how to tap into the ideas and and patient and create the eye of the employees, and what you should be doing as a manager to not just support that, but engage in that, lead that and so what they really bring to you on those conversations at dinner is the heart of Kaizen and it imbued me with so much interest in Kaizen and motivation for Kaizen. And it just entered my body.
Nick: You still seem enthusiastic now, just by looking at you. Was that when you first met Nakao Sensei.
Bob: Actually I didn't meet him until a bit later than some other Kaizen. So the initial Kaizen was with other Senseis. And yeah, and that and then reconnected with him much later, around 2004. The Shingijutsu folks wanted to have some books, a couple of books written about Kaizen and so forth, and they recruited me. There's something called lean Lean management, which is a derivative of Toyota and in Lean Management. Kaizen is not that prominent and lean has become very popular.
Bob: But Kaizen kind of fell by the wayside. And so I had questions like, does anybody really care about Kaizen, but I cared about Kaizen. And I was in a way reluctant, but I kind of knew I was going to do this book and another one because it explained things in ways that other people have not explained Kaizen. And to me, this was the sort of the heart and soul of Kaizen, that needed to be explained that was never understood, and people somehow could, not put it into words or they didn't have the experience or the understanding to be able to do that.
And I had studied, by the way, Eastern philosophy from about 1990 to 1995 or six, I spent more time with that than I did on my PhD. And so, somehow what I was learning from the, from our Shingijutsu consultants and how they were explaining Kaizen and the connection to humanity and in life and living and things like that, and not just working, but be having a productive life, and having a life that doing things that connect with ikigai, doing things that makes life worthwhile, having some purpose cultivating your inner potential serving others.
So what they were explaining to me, those aspects I readily understood. It wasn't like they were talking to a Westerner who had no clue of this kind of thing. So I at that time studied it, tried to embody the characteristics of what I was learning in Eastern philosophy, and practising it in my daily life, at work and at home. And so, it resonated with me very easily.
Kaizen Forever - Teachings of Chihiro Nakao
Nick: We should touch on your book, I'd like to say a few things. So the title is Kaizen Forever - Teachings of Chihiro Nakao. Now, it's a small book, it's only 80 pages and it has quite a large font, but it is packed with Kaizen teachings, amazing insight, this wisdom you've just been referring to. And the book almost feels like it's an example of Kaizen itself. In the chapters, what you think would normally be long paragraphs to explain something there are just one or two short sentences. So was the book itself an intentional example of Kaizen?
Bob: It is in different ways. The large font is because the intent was to get leaders to read this book and people who might be over 50 years old. Of course, it's for younger people as well. But I mean, one of the things we need is leaders who understand Kaizen, leaders who participate in Kaizen, leaders who participate, to learn it, and practice as well as to further their learning and develop their understanding and wisdom for this.
But the other thing too is a lot of the reading that I had done in Eastern philosophy is in the form of aphorisms, short sentences to contemplate. And I thought that would be a very effective vehicle here to just have short sentences to contemplate that these are Mr Nakao's teachings and you'll notice that the teachings they're not in quotes because as you know, going from Japanese to English is an interpretation. It's not a translation.
Bob: Things don't translate exactly. So I didn't use quotes for any of these short sentences because it's an interpretation. And I thought that was an important thing to get across. Well, I don't know that I really say that in this book, but that's the idea behind it. But the interpreter is somebody who has 15 years of experience with Mr. Nakao. She's not a rookie and she's obviously deeply bilingual and understands this type of Gemba, Kaizen language that Mr Nakao talks about.
Nick: Yeah, I mean, it was unusual, but I think it was very effective. And I know that some concepts, they are very hard to translate, so where the language is a little bit unusual, usually indicates to me that it's actually a good representation of what's trying to be expressed.
Learn By Doing
Nick: So moving on, you wrote the book, and these are basically your words. You wrote the book for anyone who wants to learn how to think or think better, through the process of "learn by doing" and your dream is to reach younger generations to inspire them to learn and practice Kaizen and achieve flow. And you mentioned three principles that you ask the reader to take note of. And I'm only going to mention the third and our listeners will have to buy the book if they want to find out the other two, but you write, there are no limitations to where Kaizen can be applied. Any type of business or organisation in any industry can benefit from Kaizen. Now, I think this might take some of our listeners by surprise as Kaizen is usually associated with manufacturing.
Bob: It is, but in any kind of work, whether you're doing it at work or at home, you have a plan in mind, I want to do this today, I want to get this done. And then through the course of the day, you get sidetracked or whatever, and whatever you had planned, didn't get done, or it didn't get done correctly, or there's something missing or whatever.
So there's a gap between the plan and the actual, and a lot of people go to work and say, "Well, I didn't get done what I wanted to get done today. I'll try again tomorrow." And they don't really recognise the gap between plan and actual as a problem. And so that gap between plan and actual should be something that triggers a recognition that there's a problem. If there's a problem, that should put somebody in some kind of loop like the Deming cycle, which is essentially a form of Kaizen, which says the plan, do study and adjust. And so the plan would be, okay, I had a problem. "What's my idea to correct it?" Come up with some ideas. Let me try those ideas out and see what happens, and see what to do and see what happens and make an adjustment based upon that.
And the kind of Kaizen that happens industrially is a bit more formalised by understanding workers motion and the time it takes to do work, etc. But fundamentally The key is to recognise that there's a problem, not just say, "Oh, there's a problem. Who cares!", but recognise there's a problem and come up with ideas.
And humans are very good at coming up with ideas. But most people will say, Oh, I'm not creative, and so forth, and they attach creativity to the visual arts or music or something like that. But just the notion of coming up with ideas is creative in and of itself, for whatever you're doing, whether it's cooking or gardening, or fixing your car or whatever the case may be. So, yeah Kaizen has obviously broad applicability in any industry because there's always a gap between plan and actual, whether you're in financial services, law, healthcare, whatever you're doing whatever kind of work, as well as just in your personal life doing work around the house.
What Is Shingijutsu Kaizen?
Nick: I do like that creativity, intelligence, I guess that aspect of Kaizen and there's a word that I'll introduce later, but I think we need to define a word you've mentioned several times and that is a Shingijutsu to Kaizen. So, what what is Shingijutsu
Bob: Shingijutsu is the name of a company that was formed at the behest of Taichi Ohno. He was an executive in charge of operations at different levels during his career at Toyota. And he was one of the people leading the creation of Toyota's production system. And the main process by which TPS was created was Kaizen. And so, Shingijutsu means a new technology, and a sense of new technology, new management, technology, new technology, a way to manage an organisation.
So in the beginning, they saw what they had created, well not in the beginning, but later on, they recognised what they had created was basically a new manufacturing paradigm, a new manufacturing management paradigm, basically new technology, a way of managing an organisation, leading people, a new technology way of understanding work and how to improve it and how to engage people in efforts to improve the work.
Bob: Again, these just were remarkable experiences, very memorable and in doing this book, one of the things I was doing was shadowing Mr Nakao and Kaizen because to take notes and to capture his words through his interpreter that formulated the essence of this book, and so I had shadowed him over the course of two or three week-long Kaizens, and you have voluminous notes and the challenge became how do you organise this book and you can see it from the Table of Contents, the way in which it's organised, it's five areas, different types of teachings; teachings on the process, teachings on equipment, teachings on space, teachings on money, teachings on time, teachings on the information.
And so when you're engaging in Kaizen with Mr Nakao, he's saying all these things, but you don't necessarily comprehend them as teachings in these different categories as I've laid them out. He doesn't just talk about teachings on people when he's talking to you. It's an integration of all of these things. And one of the challenges, when you're participating in Kaizen led by people like Chihiro Nakao, is comprehending what he's saying while you have the technical task of figuring out how to improve the process. And I think for a lot of people, what he's saying kind of gets lost and we focus in on what he's saying in terms of providing guidance, to do the technical improvement of the process. And all this other good stuff just sort of gets lost. And that's why, again, the reason why I'm doing this book is that so many of these wonderful things just kind of gets lost. And people are very busy during this Kaizen and they've got a lot on their mind. And so they're not taking notes about all the things he's saying just picking out a few things relative to the task of improving the work
Thinking by using hands and looking by using feet.
Nick: I imagine it would be hard to take notes. If it's such an eye-opening experience, you want to be present and focused. One thing that jumped out to me was this expression of "Thinking by using hands and looking by using feet.", and that applies to the Gemba, the factory floor, do you want to elaborate what that really means?
Bob: You can read a book on how to cook a souffle but you don't know how to make a souffle until you have made it with your hands. And so the learning that comes from working with your hands and the craftsmanship that comes from working with your hands is much greater than just the intellectual understanding that comes from listening to somebody or reading a book or watching a video. And so it’s basically getting your hands dirty and doing it.
And so in Kaizen, what the sensei challenges do, for example, is think of seven ways you know, you have a process, you have one way of doing it, he'll say, think of seven ways to do that, and try out all seven ways. So there's an intellectual challenge of Okay, we do it. And method number one, but we need to think of method two through to eight new methods, and then we need to try them out. So intellectual plus hands, you learn more, and then the learning with your feet means to get out of the conference room, get off, get out of your desk. Go to the actual place where the work is performed and go see it and go touch it and feel it and smell it with your own body, the physicality of your human self. Go see with your own eyes.
Nick: So it really is the practical application of knowledge.
Bob: Yeah, absolutely.
Nick: And knowledge really isn't real until I guess you actually use it, do something with it. And that, yeah, that's a recurring theme about, if you want to learn something, or know something, even if you're an executive, or you're the president, you've got to go to the factory, you've got to go there and check yourself. It would go against the way the West does business and how things are structured and how people are treated.
Bob: Yeah, I mean, what you normally have in a business is people have to produce reports for the head office or for the boss. And then in Toyota world, you have some of that, but more likely what you have is visuals on a board at the place of work that describes the work that's being done, and some key process indicators to say if you're on target or off-target, and you just go there and see at a glance. Look at it at a glance, you can tell the current state of the situation immediately. You don't need to read a big thick record about what's going on and so forth.
There is so much emphasis placed on actual doing, give you an example that I've always liked the bass guitar, the sound. And so in music, I would frequently key in on the bass guitar, and then at the age of 45, believe it or not, I picked up the bass guitar and wanted to learn how to play the bass guitar. Yeah, this actually was a long time ago. But It was a very interesting challenge because I would try to replicate songs that I liked, that I knew that have a good bassline. And you thought you knew the bassline from hearing it, but you didn't hear it actually you thought you heard a bassline, but when you try to play it, get your hands dirty, try to play it yourself. You realise there are notes there that I never realised were there and so on.
So actually doing it is so different than listening to it or watching it on a video or reading about it. And that's what they emphasise that the learning is so much richer and when you play the bass guitar what you learn from doing that is that you have a much richer learning experience and learning when you hear other songs now that you know how to play to some degree and so it's really getting your hands dirty getting in there and doing it.
Now, it also mentioned that people, if you look in Wikipedia about hobbies, most of the hobbies that are listed are people baking things. It involves making things, humans like to make things, whether it's cooking or gardening, even a scrapbook or watching movies, they're making memories. They're making emotional connections. They're making some kind of satisfaction to an artistic thing or whatever.
But in the workplace, it's kind of just like we're by rote doing things. So what Kaizen does is it brings craftsmanship back into the workplace, because your job otherwise is more or less routinized to some degree. And then if you can teach people, the craftsmanship associated with Kaizen, bring craftsmanship into the work that you do to improve what you do, then it becomes a lot more interesting type of work.
Shumilation & Trystorming
Bob: And one of the things you mentioned to me was Shumilation. Shumi means hobby in Japanese. And then this anglicised 'lation' like simulation added to it. So basically, getting people energised and motivated about making a hobby of doing simulations and trials and trying things. And to the point "trystorming". Sensei is like, "No brainstorming, don't do that. Don't do brainstorming", because all people do is they go into a conference room, they kick around a bunch of ideas, they spend most times arguing that this won't work or that won't work. And then at the end of it, they'll come up with one idea that may or may not work
And what Sensei says, No brainstorming you do try-storming think of ideas and try and you come up with 10 ideas try all 10. Don't sit there and say we think this one will work better than the rest. Now. Try all 10 ideas and in doing that, whatever one idea you end up implementing will be resolving the learning of trying all 10 ideas, not just the one idea that people guessed intellectually might be the best.
Nick: That was a real highlight for me where you had this example of, if there's a problem, just try several ways to fix it and try to do it before lunch, you've got to get this done before lunch. Whereas in maybe in the West, you'd think, Oh, we've got a problem. We've got to have a meeting, Oh we can't have it this week. Okay, well, we'll have the next week. And you can imagine it's going to take weeks before they decide on how to approach the problem, where you've got sensei saying, Well try 10 methods to fix this problem, and do it before lunch on the same day. And I was like that's such a radically different approach.
Bob: Yeah and then in the so-called Western company the idea is okay, there's a problem. The boss will say, I need you to fix it and that the employer will say well, when or something like that and the boss would say in a week from now. This is why companies get into trouble because most companies are in a competitive environment and the timescale for improvement is basically out of the educational system the teacher gives you an assignment, it's due in a week or two. And, that's what we do in business, when is it due in a week or two or a month or two?
And then sensei's, like, No, do it now think of, 10 ways to do this by two o'clock and we're saying this at nine in the morning and try it out. And so that's how you go from in Toyotas case from basically a nobody in the 1950s recovering after World War 2 to be on the global stage by the early 70s. How do you go from almost not quite zero, but not in good shape to the global stage in 20 to 25 well, that's because you don't take two weeks or two months to get something done.
Nick: That is amazing how in 20 years they're a powerhouse in so many industries.
So one of the themes that I really liked was, there was this strong theme of not investing in new machinery, but encouraging staff to, as we've mentioned, be creative and find solutions using tools and equipment and machines they already had access to. And yeah, this idea of challenging workers to solve problems in hours instead of what would take other companies weeks or months. And there's this central theme that Kaizen doesn't sacrifice workers. It's never at the sacrifice of workers and in fact, Kaizen's never Kaizen if one aspect or one area of the business suffers from it, the whole business across the board has to improve.
Bob: That's correct. It's not if you improve in one area, but make life difficult for somebody upstream or downstream then that's no improvement. You haven't achieved Kaizen, it's got to be good for the particular work area. And it's got to be either neutral or positive to whoever's upstream or downstream from you. And so, yes, this idea of Kaizen is not for cutting jobs. It's not for making people work harder, it's to make it easier for people to do work. The human aspect is hugely important. People are central to Kaizen, and they're obviously not going to participate in it if they're harmed in some way by Kaizen.
But the human aspect I want to relate to you and you may have read this as sensei says when people are in a type of work in the company where they process documents, and there may be a stack of documents to process. He says, think of your stack of papers as people, the bottom person will be stressed out and will have difficulty breathing. A stack of two means to turn on the 'Andon' light.
So he's anthropomorphizing a stack of paper to be like a stack of people and the discomfort that the people would feel if they're stacked like that. And even if you have a stack of two, it's difficult for somebody to breathe. So you shouldn't have stacks of paper lying around to process. You have to figure out a way to process these papers one at a time, process the information one at a time, so you don't create these buildups. So a lot of this relates to eliminating inventories in terms of buildups of work at different steps in the process, smoothing out the flow of work, trying to process one item at a time. So it gets your full attention from a processing standpoint, quality standpoint, etc. doing multiple things.
The Seven Teachings
Nick: I remember reading that and there are gold nuggets throughout this book and I like to go through those teachings you mentioned and I've pulled a sort of a gold nugget out of each. And so there are seven teaching chapters, teaching some people on processes, equipment, space, money, time and information. Can we go through one example of each teaching?
Teachings On People
Nick: Alright, so for teachings on people, you wrote, and I guess this is what sensei teaches,
"You have to go back to zero, put yourself under dire circumstances to think differently."
That was really powerful. For me.
Bob: Yeah, it is and I think people underestimate that power. When we have a problem, we're always quick to say we need more money, we need more people, we need new software, we need new equipment we need more space and so forth. And so if you take away all of that from people and say no, you have to use your ingenuity. And you have to abandon your preconceptions of how you've done things in the past, or how you're doing things currently now. And then you just have to wipe your mind clean and say, What are different ways we could do this? compared to how we're doing it today? And that's hard to do, because these preconceptions, they're rooted deeply in us.
If we're doing work the way we did it in my business unit at Pratt and Whitney, in 1994. I mean, the message is, if we're doing it a certain way, it's basically the management's approved way of doing it. A manufacturing engineer says this the way to do it, the operator does it that way and says it's okay. The business unit manager says, Well, it looks okay, the Vice President, President, everybody says this is okay. So, all of the preconceptions associated with doing It that way, are accepted. And we have a hard time just breaking free of those things. That's a big thing about what Kaizen is about is to break free of preconceptions. In fact, Mr Ono said we're doomed to failure if we do not initiate daily destruction of our various preconceptions, and that's how you make progress, you have to initiate that daily destruction of your preconceptions and that's really really hard to do.
Nick: Yeah, it reminds me of another Japanese concept Shoshin, beginner mind. Where you approach things with this beginner mindset and all your assumptions, all your knowledge, your ego, you let all that go. And you are just open to learning from zero again.
Bob: Yeah, sensei says you have to think like a 9 or 10 or 11-year-old something like that. And the reason why he picks that age is that we're interested in things. And a few years later, we'll start to become interested in people and love and sex and things like that. We'll get distracted and other things like we'll take an interest in Hot Rods and other kinds of things. So we won't have that beginner's mind of being a two year old, a five year old and a nine year old, things will change.
Teachings on the Process
Nick: Teachings on the process, I found a really good one here. I think, You just have to brush your teeth, do you have to take your clothes off to do that?
Bob: Yeah, what he's talking about is people just have simple things to do, but they just make it very much more elaborate than it needs to be and more complex than it needs to be and you have a simple task here so why do you make it so complex? Understand what the function is and just perform that and do that particular function in the workflow without all this other extraneous stuff.
So he's trying to get people to understand again a simple concept but to notice the connection to humanity, brushing your teeth, there's a lot of those kinds of connections to daily life, that how you would do things in your personal life. So for example, in a manufacturing environment, sometimes the tools that you need are located separately from where the work is performed. And so the example that he would give is your plates and silverware, you don't put in the garage when you use them in the kitchen. So put your tools where they are used. But you'd be amazed in companies how it used to be called a tool crib that an operator would have to walk a distance to go get the tools they need to do the job because management felt like they would have control over the tools that way and they wouldn't be misplaced or stolen or whatever. But then it's very inefficient management, then all complaints about how come productivity is low and the outputs low and etc. So lots of humanistic types of examples, things that we would do at home, but we'd never do that at work.
Nick: It's unusual how we've made work so hard for ourselves. And the people who make the most important decisions aren't even doing the work they're making decisions on.
Bob: And you can see that the way he speaks and this is decades of practice, decades of thought and decades, I mean six decades. I mean, a Sensei Nakao is like 78 now and he started working when he was 18, and so now he's probably the world's greatest industrial engineer for sure.
Nick: But there is once you realise it, there is this just common sense to every teaching. Why don't people know this? Or why didn't I know that? Why have we complicated the world so much that in order to do something we either out of fear or because we need to be perfect or because we're just simply told you to have to do it this way. We make it so hard for ourselves.
Bob: Yes, we just tend to make things very complicated. And that's rooted in our preconceptions. If I'm the boss and you're in my business unit, and I say, Okay, I need to report on this, that and the other thing, you're going to infer some number of pages. You're gonna think I'm probably gonna for a good looking and Quality Report so It's gotta be 10 pages. And so you're going to spend a week doing 10 pages. And then how many of us have had the experience where you turn in the 10 pages? And the boss says, Oh, no, that's not what I wanted. They wanted much less and so forth.
It took me a while to do this when I was in the industry, I started supplying reports that were one page or half a page and I operated under the notion that if they want more, they'll ask and then when I got out into higher ed, you have to do those reports too and all it was was one page or half a page. And they never came, I never had anybody who came back and said, I need more information than that. My University always wants reports and so for one particular report, I did the report but then I distilled it into a one-pager. And I said here's an example of how this multi-page report can be reduced to one page containing all the requisite information and then my recommendation is you use the format that I provided for subsequent reports and distribute the format to everybody in this one page, less than an hour to complete. And you know what happened?
Nick: I'm hoping they did it, but I bet they didn't get it.
Bob: They just ignored there's an improvement. And again, there's this preconception in higher education that a report has to be a lot of pages to be meaningful and so forth. and it's ridiculous.
Teachings on Equipment
Nick: All right, let's move on to teachings on equipment. This is interesting because I've got a follow-up question. Anyway, the teaching is computers kill your ability to think, which I think is true, but now with AI are people, experts and people who've studied Kaizen, are you talking about AI and Kaizen and where that relationship will go or if there will be a relationship
Bob: I think it does have a relationship to that. But the specific meaning is that when something is needed people go to the computer to do it. I'll write it up in Microsoft Word, I'll create a presentation in PowerPoint. I will use some other software to sketch out a design or to draw the design of a part and so what sensei teaches you is pen to paper. Sketch out, take notes.
There's this thing that happens when your handwriting versus when you are typing. There's a different level of learning that comes from taking notes and this is very well documented by academicians who study computerised note-taking in class versus handwritten note-taking and learning the results from each one of those and the learning is significantly better with handwritten notes than it is with a student typing on a computer to take notes.
So part of it is note-taking, but also the other part of it is sketching out in terms of drawing, sketching of whatever, but sketch it out by hand pen to paper. Don't go to the computer software to make it. When somebody says "I'll go to the computer to draw a sketch up of whatever it is, they're gone for hours and they come back with a nice, pretty picture and all you needed was something sketched out here in one or two minutes on a pad of paper. That'll suffice.
Nick: Yeah, they're examples of sensei's handiwork or handwritten work
Bob: Yeah his calligraphy absolutely, but also, again, a connection to humanity here. What AI is going to do is it's going to do that thinking for us, and that whoever programmed the AI is going to programme in a bunch of preconceptions of how things are and how things should be. So the output of AI in some cases, not all, but it's going to be preconception laden. The best thing that can happen is that people say, "well, how do I know what this AI thing is telling me is true or not?".
We need to say that about when we interact with people, too because too often we hear somebody high up in authority, say, what gets measured, gets managed and people just because the big boss said that they go, Yeah, it's true. But I can show you a formal proof that I did 20 years ago, using mathematical logic that's a false statement. Anybody who's been in the industry knows that some of the things that are measured on they're ignored or they're ignoring because there's too many metrics that they're held accountable to and they can't effectively deal with them all so there are lots of measures that don't get managed.
So it's just on its face it's false, but then you can formally prove it to be false. And so you have to question people in power, which doesn't go well trust me. But you're gonna have to question the AI output, as well as say "How do I know this to be true? It tells me but how do I know?" So that's another thing about Kaizen is just people will tell you the best way to make something is batch and queue. Well, how do you know and how do you know there isn't a better way? So you have to question all these things that people say.
Teachings on Space
Bob: What you just mentioned about preconceived ideas is actually what I picked out for teachings on space, which is eliminate preconceived notions.
Yeah, so one of the things in terms of using spaces is people will buy very large equipment to do very small tasks on a part. And so one of the things you want to do is right-size the equipment where possible, get equipment that's a human dimension, shoulder height, body with or smaller. So you can create a flow of work that is done in a small space because space costs money, there's lighting, air conditioning, taxes, etc. Space costs money and if you buy equipment that's larger than is necessary to do the job you take up space, you increase your expenses, you have service contracts on that equipment, you have obviously a capital outlay, you have maintenance that you have to do on that equipment, and so on. So you just balloon your costs and then you wonder why you're not making any money.
And it's not all about making money but, if you're in business, you're going to need that as one of your outcomes if you plan to survive. So there are ways to do work, that is resource-intensive, that take up a lot of space and then there are ways of doing work that is less resource-intensive, that take much less space. So that in that smaller footprint, you can populate more productive work areas and be able to satisfy your customer better.
Nick: That goes back to that idea of working with constraints. If you do have limited space, well, you've got no choice. So to become good at working with constraints, these challenges, they don't destroy people or companies, they get over them and move on to the other issues or problems.
Bob: Yeah but, people don't recognise these constraints. So for example, if you have a building of a certain size, and your business is growing people will say well knock out a wall and let's add some space. They don't sit there and say, "Well do we really need all this big equipment?" We've over-engineered our process, because a lot of times capital equipment people buy it, and it's a pain in the neck, especially in a big corporation to buy capital equipment, you need reports and justifications.
So they will buy more than they need in terms of capability and size and so forth because it's a pain in the neck to go through that process. So you might need a machine to do a simple function like drill a hole, which could be a $50 drill head from an industrial supply catalogue, but you'll get a $500,000 piece of equipment. And you don't need to bang out that wall you just need to sell that piece of equipment off and get the five $500 drill.
Teachings On Money
Nick: Well, this leads to the next teaching actually so teachings of money. Sensei said it feels good to spend money. Stop it.
Bob: Well, that's right. It happens at work just like it happens at home. You're looking at the curtains and saying I need new curtains, do you really need curtains? No, but you just feel like spending some money, probably as much as you would want a different look, if not more just the feeling of spending money. That happens in the industry all the time.
I know this when leaders plan the financials for the year, there's a budget that exists for spending money on things like capital equipment and so on. So Mr Nakao is saying, you have to break that habit of spending money, and instead be very judicious about when you truly do need to spend money.
There has to be a real need and some companies are very good at sorting out, "do we really need this?" and if the need points to a $200,000 piece of equipment, let's rethink that. Could we do it for $20,000? Okay, because right now, we've determined there is a need to spend money. There's an actual need, the price tag is $200,000. Okay, we'll spend the money but let's see if we can do it for 20 grand and stuff, and maybe have another iteration about $2,000.
You'd be surprised people figure out a way to avoid that $200,000 expenditure and do it for $2,000 and in the meantime, your competition spending $200,000.
Nick: It's advice we could all follow.
Bob: Why he's saying this is because it's very hard for a business to generate profit. It costs a lot to produce things. Plant property equipment, people, etc then you have competition and the market. In a competitive environment in a buyers market, the market sets the price, you can't just add profit to whatever your costs are. So it's very hard to make a profit so you shouldn't do things that make it harder to make a profit.
Nick: Yeah. That makes sense.
Bob: That's what people do, they do all kinds of things to make it harder to make a profit. I go back to that Kaizen in July 1994. We did everything we could to make it hard to make a profit on making that particular part that we would produce.
Teachings on Time - Fisheyes
Nick: Well, it sounds like you weren't eating enough fisheyes and this leads to the next one. So teachings on time. This is really unusual, and you'll have to explain it. Not enough people ate fish eyes. That is why there are so many concrete heads.
Bob: Yeah, concrete heads are people who don't get it, they're thick-headed. They don't see the light. So fish eyes have a protein or amino acid or there's something in there that's good for brain health. A vitamin, not a mineral but some biologic compound a protein or molecule or something that is good for brain power for thinking and so on. Mr Nakao and Kaizen at least three times a week would have the company that was hosting this they would work with a local Japanese restaurant and they'd bring in fish and sure enough, he beat those fisheyes up. Oh, absolutely. You better believe it.
Teachings on Information
Nick: Going from one extreme to the other, with teaching some information. I probably like this one the most because it's so true. People are too smart. They think with their heads always. This causes stress and worry. This causes you to drink.
Bob: It's right.
Nick: It's just so true.
Bob: Yep, Essentially we have amygdala in our head which is the Centre for fight or flight. Obviously the amygdala is meant to give us this shot of adrenaline when we see a snake near our feet and we jump away and that's this millisecond response to a threat. Humans infer the existence of threats in environments that are not natural to us, like the workplace. We have a boss that yells at us, we're afraid of losing our job because a company is going to move the work overseas or something like this.
So we end up a pen fading and thinking and being stressed out about a lot of things, and therefore we lose focus. I think one of the good things about Kaizen is that Kaizen makes you feel good that you've utilised you're into left your ingenuity to make something better, and you feel good about that. So actually coming to work, and making improvements is a fun thing, It's a good thing you feel good about yourself. When you have those kinds of feelings, you don't stress out.
Personally, I have a personal vision for Kaizen that to create workplaces that improve human physical and mental health, so that people leave work every day and better health than when they arrived and I truly believe that it is possible for people to leave work and better health than when they arrived through the type of Kaizen practice that Mr Nakao teaches. Now, there's lots of different type of Kaizen practice if people teach that I don't think has that same effect, because they're not as good as integrating the heart, the mind, of Kaizen and its interaction with other people and business and customers and money, the different categories we talked about here.
Nick: That's, that's an ambitious challenge and a worthwhile one. We all should leave work, feeling some sense of satisfaction and some sense of purpose and we've contributed. And, unfortunately, I guess most people don't, they leave stressed or frustrated or angry.
Bob: Right, that's because there's a preconception that among leaders of businesses that that work is hard and you should be stressed out and it's not easy and things are complicated. These are all preconceptions that Kaizen breaks through. Leaders of just about almost every business have a view of business that is very unhealthy and is bad for human health, and Kaizen can help improve human health, but most leaders are not interested in Kaizen because they are bound by a host of preconceptions.
In my most recent work I've been looking carefully at that as answering the question Why do leaders resist and reject Lean management? and with that, you can say why did they resist and reject Kaizen is because there are economic, social, political, historical, philosophical, business, legal and spiritual preconceptions, all of which these eight categories of preconceptions interact with one another.
In any one of those categories, there's 10, to 15 to 20 preconceptions, so you have 150 preconceptions, all interconnected with one another, that you have to unravel If you want to try to get leaders to accept this idea that Kaizen can actually be something that improves human health and that people leave work healthier than when they arrived, that blood pressure was high when they arrived because they're fighting the traffic to get to work and they just had their coffee and accelerated their heart rate and so forth, then they come to work they leave work and they're in better health.
Nick: Well, this leads to probably the paragraph that just connected with me the most and it's the opening paragraph of chapter 10 and I'd like to read it.
“Shingijutsu Kaizen is people-focused Kaizen based on learning by doing it is a humanistic approach to Kaizen that helps people realise their full potential Shingijutsu Kaizen helps people develop confidence in themselves, their wisdom and their capacity to improve. It pushes people to think differently and to not be afraid of making changes.” - Bob Emiliani
Now, if your workplace was like that, how happy, productive would everyone be? And this to me obviously relates to the ikigai concept that it's about reaching out the full potential and being able to be our true selves in a sense, even in the confines of work and work really should be something we enjoy and pursue have a sense of purpose, not something where going to in fear of the boss's reaction or the stress of asking for help or just ridiculous crap we have to deal with that shouldn't exist.
Bob: Right, and so one of the purposes of Kaizen is a simplification to make work easier. When work is simplified and easier, there are fewer opportunities for mistakes, then there's less opportunity to blame people and so on. And then ultimately, you quickly understand through Kaizen that if you blame people for problems and mistakes, you don't get their creativity, their ideas, their ingenuity to make things simpler. They just accept things the way they are.
So Kaizen teaches the opposite of the way that basically the way the world runs. The difficulty is getting leaders on board to that vision that I expressed as you leave work healthier than when you arrived. Leaders will lecture you all day long about costs are too high and so forth. Well, you have a method of simplification, reducing costs, humanising the work, it's better for people, it's better for the environment, it's better for society, It's better for investors, it's better for customers, it's better for suppliers and it's better for competitors even because you're raising the bar that brings other people up as well. So, it's better for everything, but yet, 99.99% of our leaders are like that.
This Kaizen is junk we don't need it. We're doing great. But you see things in society like obesity and the medications that people are on to control stress and anxiety and so forth and certainly not all of it comes from the workplace, but my bet is that a lot more of it comes from the workplace than I realise.
How can we apply kaizen during abnormal situations?
Nick: I agree. So going back to the last sentence, it pushes people to think differently and not to be afraid of making changes. Now, this really applies to the situation all of us are experiencing now. With the pandemic, all businesses have had to make changes and many people are working from home. So, how can we apply Kaizen if we're not working in our usual work environment and is this an opportunity for us to deal with it using Kaizen?
Bob: Yeah, well, it is indeed an abnormal situation and people are making changes as a result of it but, one of the things we talk a lot about in the lean world is the burning platform and people won't change. Unless the platform is on fire, you're going to drown or whatever and you have to change but, I've shown how that's basically discredited line of thinking because we have this burning platform of COVID-19 and very few companies have said, we're going to do Kaizen we're going to do Lean management because we're on this burning platform.
In the US, there's like 4 million businesses that are under threat of closure and I don't know one of them that was the CEO said, we're gonna do Kaizen, we're going to do lean stuff. So that's not necessarily the driver. The other thing too is people say there's gonna be a vaccine so there'll be a drive to return to normal. Post vaccines. More or less, right? Economists say things will rebound in 2022. So when you, you're planting these preconceptions in people that things will get better, and so we can return back to normal. So that'll prevent that last sentence from occurring in chapter 10 which was what?
Nick: It pushes people to think differently, and not to be afraid of making changes.
Bob: Yeah. The context there is in normal times, not in a COVID time. Because that's when you need that to happen is in normal times. It's going to happen by itself in abnormal times like what we have now, but you need this to happen normal times and Sensei teaches us, be brave, try it out. This is the encouragement that he's giving. I didn't have the right word earlier when we started this, but he gives you encouragement and he believes in you because he's seen this for decades that people can do amazing things with their Intelligence and with their heart.
Never Give Up
Nick: Well, I'd like to end one of Sensei's quotes, and that is
"You must do lots of trial and error, don't consider error as a failure, never give up." - Chihiro Nakao
Bob: He says also when Kaizen stops everything stops. So it's a similar way of expressing what that is, so never give up. Keep going keep trying.
Nick: Thank you so much, Bob for first for writing the book and for your time this morning and I look forward to reading another book of yours and maybe having you back on another podcast.
Bob: Been My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Nick: My pleasure